Sometimes I read a book so interesting I have to gush about it to others, and Malcolm Gladwell’s Outliers, which explores the nature of phenomenal success as a socio-economical construct, is one such book—especially since it’s, in my humble opinion, applicable to writing.
Let’s go over the basics.
Success, Gladwell argues, is not dependant on how talented or smart you are. It’s not even about who your daddy is or if you work harder than everyone else (though that helps).
It’s all about your environment. Not your physical writing environment, but your social, economical, and technological environment.
Here some environment-as-success-catalysts mentioned by Gladwell
Thanks to his proximity to a university, school, and people that gave him nearly unlimited access to real-time computing in a time when programming was largely enabled by punch cards, Bill Gates had a significant advantage in programming (knowledge and application) over his peers when personal computing took off.
Thanks to their play-or-die stint in Hamburg clubs in the early ’60s, where they played back-to-back sessions, seven days a week, and covered a variety of genres, The Beatles surpassed other bands in both on-stage presence and stamina, perfecting their distinctive and universally commercial sound in a way that could only be done if they were literally forced to practice every day.
Thanks to growing up in the tail end of the Great Depression and watching their parents’ work ethic and entrepreneurialism elevate their living conditions from the lower to middle and upper classes, the children of first generation immigrants learned to work hard and take advantage of the superior education opportunities of the times to obtain coveted careers in law, medicine, and academia.
So what does this mean for writers?
Writing a novel is not an exercise in individual ability, but an exercise in how conducive your environment is to writing that novel. And not just the physical environment, which encompass your writing space and tools of the trade. I’m talking about the external environment that’s greater than ourselves. If we were to examine the writing environment from a social, economical, and technological standpoint, it would look something like this:
Are you surrounded by people that support your writing aspirations?
Can you support yourself while striving to meet your writing goals?
Are you taking advantage of new developments in technology (social media, e-reading, and more) to spearhead your writing?
While these factors are definitely not a sure predictor of your writing success, it can definitely make the act of writing easier or harder.
This is especially true when I don’t write for a week or two: I turn to the Internet to share my struggle and solicit advice from other writers (technological), or get a pep talk from a friend that leaves me mildly embarrassed but ready to tackle writing head-on (social). These constructs keep my pen to the page when I’d rather lounge on a beach reading all day, and keeps the writing machine well-oiled.
So, the writing environment. It matters.
Millie’s Note: How would you answer the three questions? What gets you through your roadblocks?